The illustrated man
As part of my…let’s call it „literary resolution”, I read my very first Sci-Fi book. I also ordered Dune and got the first Amber volume, but I figured I’d start easy – a short story collection by Ray Bradbury. Now, my knowledge of sci fi literature equals 0, so I don’t expect I’ll get anything pertinent out, but at least I’m trying. 😉
I keep reading on the internet that The illustrated man is an 18 story collection, but funnily enough, my book only has 8. I feel a bit cheated, I definitely would have enjoyed reading more – and I’m probably gonna look for a complete volume, because, at the end of the day, it was a very entertaining, very interesting book. I loved the premise that loosely ties the stories together: a man meets a vagrant who says that all the tattoos covering his body come to life at night, each telling a story and predicting a future; later, as he watches the lines intertwining, moving, coming to life, we’re reading the stories.
Not knowing what to expect, I have to say that The Veldt (which is the first story) made quite an impact on me, as it deals with technological advancement causing communication breakdowns, with the pitfalls of consumerism, with machines taking over people’s lives. Basically a normal, happy family of four is living in the best and most advanced house money could buy (feels a bit like it’s out of The Jetsons – does anyone remember those cartoons?) which contains, among others, a nursery for the 2 kids which is designed to show whatever the person entering wants to see. Practically raised by this room, the kids become socially inadequate and somewhat deranged and, when the adults begin to see everything that’s wrong with their way of life and try to make a clean break, the kids, which by now identify more and more with the room, program it to defend itself. The ending can only be brutal and tragic.
But actually each story packs quite an emotional punch, carefully constructed in just a few pages. The Other Foot sees a Mars colonized by black people; when after 50 years the first white man shows up they all decide to apply to him the same system of segregation they had been forced to endure on Earth; The Man deals with a group of astronauts landing on a planet and finding everyone there in a trance explained by the arrival of Jesus (never named, but easily recognizable through all the anecdotes). The crew will split, some remaining on the planet to rejoice together with the locals, the captain, looking not for faith but for proof, decides to go on a quest to encounter Him once more. The Long rain was perhaps my favorite – the unrelenting Venus rain watching 3 men’s descent into madness, the description and the physical feel of every drop of rain, the tight atmosphere it created and the seemingly fruitless search of a Sun Dome – they created quite the journey.
All the stories talk of how technology ensnares then destroys lives, of loss of communication abilities, of more and more unstable psychologies. Like the man who went on looking for Jesus when he was in fact as close as he would ever get, every character in the book is alienated and surrounded by destruction. The only ones who seem to lead a normal life and the couple in The Highway who have left the cities behind and live with very precarious means in a rural area. As the highway which runs near their fields starts flooding with people trying to escape a nuclear war and proclaiming the end of the world, the two of them go on living, content and oblivious to any potential danger. To be honest, I didn’t expect a sci fi author to reject technology as Mr. Bradbury does in these stories.